You can’t handle the truth – why most leaders say they want their businesses to be customer-centric but aren’t willing to take the first step

Feel fear and do it anyway - text on napkin

Creating a new business that endures over a long time is hard. We all know the statistics; 80 % of companies fail within the first 2-3 years.

What separates the businesses that sustain from those that wither away? Customer obsession. These companies have found a problem worth solving, a need that must be filled, and customers willing to pay. It all sounds simple.

What happens when these businesses grow up?

Over time their success breeds complacency. They no longer have to fight to win every customer; customers come to them; life is good. Leaders become managers and get paid to manage things already in place. The focus becomes the numbers, and the tail begins to wag the dog.

In markets where growth is turbocharged, mistakes are brushed under the rug. “So we stuffed up for that customer. There will be another one to replace them….”

It all goes well until the music stops; the tide goes out, and companies are exposed. Suddenly new products or services start failing not because they are bad products or services but because customers have lost trust. Managers have not been paying attention to the real source of revenue and profits – loyal customers.

Things have changed, growth has stalled, reputations decline, and customers are walking away.

Time for some customer-centricity.

The time has come to take a hard look at the business, how we are operating, what needs to change. We need to shift to a more customer-centric way of doing business!

Where do we start? How do we make it happen?

Like any and every major accomplishment in human history, everything great begins with one step forward.

In this case, that step is to take a realistic view of exactly how customer-centric you are as a business. For many that small step maybe a step too far: they don’t want to know.

Feedback hurts – it can feel like a knife twisting, gauging a hole in our being. It instills fear, even panic in us. And yet it is the truth, the way we perceive things is the way they are no matter what stories we want to tell ourselves.

So why do leaders say they want their businesses to be customer-centric but are not willing to take the first step?

Fear.

Fear of failure.

Fear of exposure.

Fear that it will distract.

Fear that it cannot be sustained.

Fear that they cannot do anything to change.

So what is the antidote to all this fear?

Just do it.

A funny thing happens when you face your fears – you grow.

If you think its time to face your fears and improve your business find out more about our unique customer-centric culture assessment here

What we can learn from how Amazon deals with poor customer experiences

amazon_innovation_coe_process

A true test of any company is what happens when things go wrong. Does the leadership step up to fix a problem? Is it a bandaid fix? or is it something permanent, that involves going to the root cause of a problem.

The world’s most customer centric company, Amazon has a great methodology called “Correction of Error” or COE. As Scott Brinker outlines in his article on innovating like Amazon: It has been baked into their culture and requires all leaders to ask the following questions:

  • What happened?
  • What was the impact on customers and your business?
  • What was the root cause?
  • What data do you have to support this?
  • What were the critical implications, especially security?
  • What lessons did you learn?
  • What corrective actions are you taking to prevent this from happening again?

This is a great way to ensure that Amazon continues to learn and minimizes the chance that the same problem will happen for multiple customers.

Now for a fun 60 second example from the movie “Meet the Parents” with Ben Stiller

While this is obviously a made-up example, I am sure many of us have had similar experiences of over zealous staff taking policies and procedures a little too seriously.

If you were the responsible manager, or a colleague, what would you do?

 

Why intensity and metrics matter when reshaping an organization’s culture: Lessons from Wells Fargo

tim_sloan_in_front_of_congress

Wells Fargo’s challenges over the past few years have been well documented. It took a turn for the worse when it created an aggressive sales culture based on unrealistic targets.

To meet sales targets, employees opened accounts customers did not need, ordered credit cards without their permission and even forged customer signatures on paperwork.

The result was the creation of 3.5 million fake customer accounts many of which were then billed fees. Further investigations produced evidence that 570,000 customers had been sold car insurance they didn’t need.

These were failures of culture, leadership and ultimately risk management practices, something the bank had prided itself on during the mortgage crisis of 2008.

In 2017, the Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), an influential shareholder advisory group released the following statement:

“The board failed to implement an effective risk-management oversight process in a timely way and that could have mitigated the harm to its customers, its employees and the bank’s reputation.”

It also suggested shareholders vote against the re-election of 12 of the 15 directors.

Most of the board was replaced over the next 12 months and Tim Sloan, the new CEO was tasked with cleaning up the mess.

To his credit, he did a lot of work with his top team to reshape the vision, values, and goals around the core idea of “helping customers succeed financially”. He also began to signal a shift in leadership focus away from shareholders:

“When you put your shareholders first—I hope Warren Buffett isn’t listening by the way—but when you put them first, then you’re going to make mistakes because you’re going to make short-term decisions that aren’t focused on creating a long-term, successful company.”

Sloan began dismantling the sales incentives that created the bad behavior and stopped paying employees on how many products they sell. Instead, they shifted the metrics to how often customers used their accounts and a range of customer experience metrics.

However, as with all changes, the devil is in the detail and employees had begun raising concerns again about customer-unfriendly practices emerging. A report by the Committee for Better Banks highlighted a continued culture of fear in which front line employees were not engaged in the change process but instead had it imposed on them.

“Honestly, it’s perceived as a joke — ‘Oh yeah, they’ve changed things,’ ” said Meggan Halvorson, 35, who works in Wells Fargo’s private mortgage banking division in Minneapolis. “I haven’t met anybody, personally, who believes what they’re saying or that it’s the case.”

Unfortunately, this has all been too little too late at least for Tim Sloan who was pressured into early retirement in early 2019.

In his final statement as CEO to the House Financial Services Committee he stated:

“We have more work to do, and that is an ongoing commitment by all of Wells Fargo’s 260,000 team members — starting with me — to put our customers’ needs first, to act with honesty, integrity, and accountability; and to strive to be the best bank in America.”

Within a month he would be gone.

What are the lessons?

Intensity and Velocity Matters

Changes need to be led with intensity and purpose from the top team throughout the organization. One of the reasons Tim Sloan was pressured into early retirement was that changes were not happening fast enough. There is a level of intensity and engagement required by the CEO to shift culture, and this is particularly important when the culture has gone bad.

Personally, “seeing the front.”

This term comes from the military and is based on the idea that leaders must see what is happening at the front lines themselves before making crucial decisions. The front line must be engaged in the process, the people doing the work matter and the daily interactions customers have with those people determine how the brand is perceived over time.

If change is imposed from the top, it is naturally resisted. The result is that employee initiative gets squashed, ownership is destroyed, and people keep their heads down out of fear of losing their job. In short, you get compliance, the bare minimum out of people.

If more direct attention had been paid to the front lines at Wells Fargo it would have been clearer what needed to happen to improve the customer and employee experience. If done correctly this will result in better business performance.

Metrics can help or hurt.

How people are measured can result in behavior that improves the customer experience or works against it. Clearly, the unrealistic sales targets at Wells Fargo resulted in the wrong behavior, that does not mean sales targets are bad; they are a necessary part of driving business performance. However, the way in which they are implemented matters.

Likewise, measures of customer experiences can be used in the right way or the wrong way. If they are used to performance manage, as a “stick,” they result in fear and resentment. Ironically, this works against the very thing they were designed to do which is to improve the customer’s experience. These metrics must be designed as learning tools that help employees develop and grow. This creates an environment that unleashes most people’s natural desire to deliver great experiences for their customers.

Transforming a company’s culture begins with a genuine desire by the top leadership to make things better. However, it then must be followed with concrete action by leaders at all levels.

If you want to catalyze customer-centric change across your organization, start by measuring how customer-centric you are today with the world’s only customer-centric culture benchmark, the Market Responsiveness Index.

Is it possible to compete with Amazon and win?

hurbert_joly_fired_up

For businesses everywhere, this is becoming an increasingly relevant question.

Not long ago most business could just ignore Amazon and say to themselves that’s fine for them in retail they are not operating in our industry.

Well, times are changing, and Amazon is competing in not only retail but consumer electronics, entertainment, enterprise cloud services and is eyeing opportunities in healthcare and payments.

The question for all businesses to ask themselves is how would we respond if Amazon entered my marketplace?

Well, one company did not have to wonder for too long, in fact, they have been competing with them for the past 10 plus years. With the rise of Amazon, many analysts predicted the demise of Best Buy, the US brick and mortar retailer.

So how to Best Buy fight back? They applied the same approach as Amazon – customer obsession.

In fact, under the new CEO, Hubert Joly, they undertook a transformation from a transactional retailer focused on store traffic and closing sales to one focused on building customer relationships for life.

Where does a customer-obsessed transformation start?

It begins with your customers and employees when a business is under attack as Best Buy was around 2009, a new vision and purpose for the business’s future needs to be articulated.

Joly launched a turnaround plan called “Renew Blue” in 2012 that was designed to address all critical stakeholders in the business beginning with customers.

To gain insights on what was happening at the frontlines, Joly spent a week working in a store and talking with employees. They told him the website sucked, it was slow and difficult to navigate, and the employee discount had been reduced recently by previous management. They also described how customers were “showrooming” coming in to see products then buy them somewhere else online.

Joly began with some quick wins, restoring the employee discount and taking price off the table by guaranteeing to match online prices.

This showed he was listening and more importantly acting on feedback, a critical trait for a customer-obsessed leader.

He then focused on customer experience, redoing the website, investing in search and matching Amazon on free fast shipping.

By focusing on their unique strengths, the in-store personal experience, they have been able to focus and start winning again.

Joly shifted the employee mindset by instilling a new purpose. In his words “we’re not in the business of selling products or doing transactions, we have our purpose, which is to enrich lives with the help of technology.”

“We don’t see ourselves as a bricks-and-mortar retailer. We are company obsessed about the customer and in serving them in a way that truly solves their unique problems.”

What does this mean in practice?

For Best Buy that means introducing new service offerings such as the “in-home Advisor” which involves best buy employees going to people’s homes for free and providing expert advice on how to better select, buy and install technology to enhance their lives.

A second example is “Total tech support” which involved Best buy taking ownership of any technical problem in the home and fixing it, all for $200 a year.

The third example of their innovation is a focus on aging seniors with an emphasis on helping them stay in their homes independently for longer. Through the smart deployment of technology they can detect if something is wrong and people need help, they can then intervene to make sure people get the help they need.

Customer-obsessed Leadership

Hubert_Joly_jeff_bezos

Customer-obsessed leaders don’t just say they are focused on customers they act on it and make decisions with a customer lens every day.

A great example is Best Buy’s relationship with Amazon, although fierce competitors on many fronts, they also see opportunities to collaborate and work together because it is the right thing for their customers.

“A lot of other retailers have been reluctant to sell their products. The reason we’ve sold their products is because we’re customer-driven.” says Joly.

In fact, recently Amazon chose to launch its Fire TV Smart TVs exclusively through Best Buy.

“Every management meeting we have, we don’t start with the financial results. We start with people. Then we talk about the customers, and last we talk about the financial results”

 “I don’t believe that the purpose of a company is to make money. It’s an imperative. It’s a necessity. But it’s not the purpose”

Hubert Joly

 

The turnaround strategy with its reinvigorated purpose and customer obsession around enriching people’s lives through technology are paying off. The ship has turned, and the future looks bright for this retailer once thought to be following Circuit City into bankruptcy.

How can you instill a customer-obsessed culture in your business? It starts by understanding your current culture and charting a path based on purpose, people and delivering great customer experiences.

Sources:

http://tcbmag.com/honors/articles/2018/2018-person-of-the-year-hubert-joly

https://www.cmo.com.au/article/659314/how-best-buy-shifted-from-being-retail-led-customer-relationship-driven/

 

Which is a better approach: customer-centric, product-centric or finance-centric?

featurecreep_cartoon

This is a great question that really comes down to a matter of the degree of emphasis put on these different approaches.

While the emphasis of some companies maybe product centric what makes those companies really successful is their balance with a customer centric approach. The best example is of course Apple, they build incredible products. At the same time they are incredibly focused on the users of those products.

The do not myopically focus on their products to the exclusion of customers, in fact they have a very strong customer obsession. This is demonstrated in their retail shopping experience, their focus on how users can get the most from their products through to the simply product line that makes it easier to determine the right product to meet a customer’s needs.

The danger is when a company becomes too product-centric and losses site of the customer experience. Products have lifecycles and lose relevance to their customer bases over time. Nokia and Blackberry have experienced this in the telecommunication market, they were thinking incrementally about product improvements and were blindsided by the way in which consumers would want to use their devices in the future.

Finance centric companies usually suffer from short-term thinking and a results orientation which can lead to great short-term results but that can catch-up to them when profits are out ahead of customer satisfaction.

Companies that do this continually lose the trust of customers and those companies find it very hard to grow organically as new products/services are often rejected by customers that have been burned in the past.

Think about a poor experience you had with a bank for example, the likelihood you are going to want to expand your relationship with that bank will diminish as a result…

Again like the product-centric company, a finance-centric company must add a balance of customer thinking to be more sustainable and successful over time.

We help companies add the customer obsession element to how they do business, you can learn more here

 

To get the right customer culture you have to be obsessive!

Passion Fuels Innovation

If you want to be one of the best at creating a consistently great customer
experience you have to be obsessive about it. Think professional athletes, think
sustainable weight loss, think the most customer-centric companies in the world
like Amazon.

Too many companies today have their weaknesses in their customer culture
exposed – some with devastating effects for their customers, employees, and
shareholders. Consider what’s happened in the banking sector, the retail sector, and
the telecommunications industry.

The culture of companies towards customers is now exposed for what it is – both to
their customers and to non-customers. Customer reviews, unwanted publicity for
failures of service delivery as well as visual cues from its website and physical
channels now expose a company’s customer culture – or lack of it.

This can’t be fixed using band-aids. A customer-centric culture is not a bolt-on. It has
to be built-in. If your company needs to build-in a strong customer culture you will
have to be obsessive about it – just like professional athletes, sports teams, and the
world’s most successful companies.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has been obsessive about customers, since its
inception just over 20 years ago. He has made sure that everyone working at
Amazon is also obsessive about customers.

This means being obsessive about getting and acting on customer insights, giving
permission (empowerment) to employees to do what’s right for the customer,
working in collaborative teams to provide greater value for customers and aligning
everyone in your business to deliver a customer-centered strategy.

This is not some nice intangible idea anymore, we have been obsessed with developing a proven methodology with measurement and best practices that any company can use.

If you really want your organization to be customer-obsessed, talk to us we know the way!

Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos explains how he drives a passion for customer obsession with his senior leadership teams

iStock_000003915234Small

Creating a customer-obsessed culture requires strong leadership and one of the very best exponents of the practice is Jeff Bezos of Amazon.

Even though Amazon now employs more than half a million employees and serves more than 300 million customers, Jeff Bezos personally reads every customer complaint email sent to him. While he does not respond to them personally, he is immersed in them as a way to stay in touch with the reality of what is going on in the business.

We call this, customer immersion, and it is one of the most important activities any CEO can engage in.

So how does he manage the wide range of customer complaints/feedback he receives directly?

He is known to forward the email directly to the leader accountable for that area with a simple “question mark”. The question mark is his short-hand for can you look into this? why is this happening?

Leaders know they are then on the hook to drill into the issue and find out what is happening and resolve it in a systemic manner, ie so it does not occur again!

And this is the crux of what makes a customer-obsessed culture different, leadership takes this seriously and follows through on making the changes necessary so that the source of the complaint is eliminated…. this simply does not happen in most organizations.

This approach gives Bezos a frontline insight into what customers think and experience. It is a huge leadership advantage as he can maintain a pulse on what is actually going on across Amazon’s massive and complex business.

In this great article by Julie Bort, Jeff explains:

“The thing I have noticed is when the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right. There’s something wrong with the way you are measuring it.”

For 10 years MarketCulture has helped leaders around the world understand how to engage employees in building a customer-obsessed culture. The MRI Assessment provides valuable feedback to leaders they can act on to enable employees to deliver great customer experiences.

MarketCulture has proven scientifically that a stronger customer culture will drive increased business performance through retention of customers and increased advocacy.
Contact us now to find out how we can help your company become customer obsessed.